« ПредишнаНапред »
perfect, grace, being the gift of God, must be perfect too, and therefore must be left to perform its perfect work in us. So that, according to them, to allow any thing to the natural powers of man, or to attempt to please God by our actions, is the highest pitch of presumption, is the making God's grace subservient to human reason, and supposing the power of the Almighty not sufficient of itself to save us, without our assistance in the work. The strenuous advocates of good works, on the other hand, insist, that man is a free agent; that to suppose him not endued with a liberty of action is to take away all distinction between virtue and vice; since no man can be denominated good or bad for doing what he was under an absolute necessity to do; that to conceive a person impelled to do a right action by any other influence than that of his own reason, is in effect to render that reason, which God hath given him, useless, and to make him literally righteous with righteousness not his own.
Thus stands the controversy between those, who push their respective opinions to the utmost lengths; and if we must needs join ourselves to the side of one of these parties, we must either assert, that man ought to sit idle, while God's holy spirit does the whole work for him; or must
reject the offer made us in the Scriptures of God's grace, and depend entirely upon his own merit for salvation: neither of which opinions, I hope, any here present would be willing to subscribe to.
What shall we do then in this case? Let us diligently search the scriptures; for they alone have the words of eternal life. And I am persuaded, that any one, who reads the writings of the Apostles with due attention, and a sincere desire of coming at the truth, who will be at the pains of comparing together the several things advanced by them upon these heads, will find them perfectly consistent with themselves and with each other. And it is principally to the want of such a due attention and comparison that the continuance of this dispute among us is in a great measure owing: for each party studiously select such parts of the scripture as they think make for their cause, and as studiously avoid and pass over such as seem to make against them. And indeed thus it must ever be, whilst men are more desirous of carrying their cause, and manifesting their superiority over their adversaries, than of finding the key of knowledge, and attaining to the real truth.
Let us hear then what St. Paul says to the church of Ephesus in my text; " By grace are
ye saved through faith; and that not of your
selves; it is the gift of God: not of works, “ lest any man should boast:" that is, it is through God's kindness that we have eternal life and happiness promised to us by the means of faith in Christ : but even of these means so proffered, we could not of ourselves make a proper use, unless he had at the same time given us his holy spirit to make our faith perfect: for our works cannot save us; so that all boasting of our own merit is absolutely excluded.
The Apostle's doctrine in the text being thus explained, I shall first shew that faith in Christ is the only means through which we can hope for salvation : and secondly, that true Christian faith cannot be attained without the assistance of God's holy spirit: and thirdly, that our works have no merit in themselves, and consequently all confidence in them, absolutely considered, is vain and presumptuous.
propose to shew, that faith in Christ is the only means, through which we can hope for salvation,
In order to make this appear, let us take a view of the state of man from his first origin. In the beginning God created man in his own
image, after his own likeness, "placed him in a state of perfect innocence, and furnished him with sufficient abilities to retain that innocence intire and spotless. 5. He saw all that he had “ made,” and man among and above the rest, " and behold it was very good.” In this situation then, it is plain, Adam could have no need of faith in Christ :' it would have been absurd to have taught him to trust in a Redeemer : for from what was he to be redeemed, who had done nothing worthy of bondage? The terms on which the Almighty had assured' him of happiness, were clear and expresss; and so long as he performed those terms, how could he' dread punishment or stand in need of a Saviour?: But, in spite of all the great advantages afforded him, man fell, and by his fall forfeited all right and claim to these advantages, and entailed a curse upon his wretched posterity. The case, then was now greatly altered : sin entered into the world, and death by sin: a deluge of iniquities overspread the face of the whole earth, and so defaced the image and impaired the likeness of God, as to leave scarce one trace or feature of the divine purity remaining. At this universal depravity and corruption of human nature, God had great reason to be highly offended, and as he is perfectly just, could not but require satisfaction from man for so gross an abuse and perversion of the talents with which he had intrusted him. And what satisfaction had man to offer, to appease his majesty so justly provoked: Should he confess himself to God and profess amerdment for the future? His amendment must still be imperfect : nay, supposing it perfect, yet this would be no reparation for the sins he had already committed: and though it should be admitted, (of which, however, though the light of nature may give us hopes, yet it can give us no assurance) should it, I say, be admitted, that God's infinite mercy will pardon sinners upon their sincere repentance and renewed obedience, yet could we, after so many and so great crimes as the very best of us commit, hope for a reward too, and that no less a reward than eternal salvation? And yet, unless this be added to our pardon, nature must for ever remain unsatisfied : she feels in herself something that grasps for everlasting bliss with groanings which cannot be uttered, and without this farther hope, the path that leads to the grave must appear all dark, dreary, and uncomfortable.